Lot 25
  • 25

Pablo Picasso

Estimate
800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
Sold
905,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Portrait de Man Ray
  • Signed Picasso and inscribed Paris 3 Janvier XXXIV (lower left)
  • Pen, brush and ink on paper

Provenance

Man Ray, Paris

Clifford Odets, New York (acquired from the above)

Paul Kantor, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above)

Thence by descent

Literature

Man Ray Photographs 1920 - 1934 Paris, Paris & Hartford, 1934, illustrated as the frontispiece

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 8, Paris, 1957,  no. 165, illustrated

The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Surrealism, 1930-1936, San Franciso, 1997, no. 34-003, illustrated p. 200

Catalogue Note

This exceptional portrait of the Surrealist artist Man Ray is one of the rare works that Picasso drew from a live model.    The picture was completed in just under an hour on January 3, 1934 in Picasso's studio, where it was so cold that Man Ray refused to take off his winter coat.  Picasso's fury of focus as he attempted to capture the essence of his close friend left a clear impression on Man Ray, who recounted the experience in his autobiography:  "[Picasso] squatted down on a small stool with a quart bottle of ink on the floor beside him and a pad on his knees.  Dipping his pen in the ink, regardless of the blackening of his fingers, he began scratching the paper.  He worked away for half an hour or so, clumsily, like a student who was drawing for the first time.  Knowing how quickly and surely he could work, I was rather surprised.   He put down the pad and pen, and rising, proceeded to roll a cigarette, telling me to relax.  When he resumed his work, he continued in the same uncertain manner, sometimes grumbling softly.  He put a finger to his tongue and rubbed the drawing with it, repeating the operation.  Presently, his fingers, lips and tongue were black with ink ..." (Man Ray, Self-Portrait, Boston, 1963, p. 178).

Faced with the task of drawing an emblematic representation of another artist - a photographer, no less - Picasso was clearly challenged.  The resulting image not only displays Picasso at his most vulnerable, but also captures the ineffable qualities of the sitter that even the most skilled portraitists have trouble materializing on the page.  "It had much of me in it, standing there in my overcoat," Man Ray would write,  "a good deal of me, any unpracticed eye could see that, especially an unpracticed eye could see it" (ibid., p. 179).  Man Ray would publish this highly-worked drawing as the frontispiece for a forthcoming album of his photographs.   In many ways, this picture is a portrait of both artists and a testament to their friendship during one of the most fruitful moments of 20th century art.

In his preparatory notes for the forthcoming Man Ray catalogue raisonné, Andrew Strauss considers this pictures symbolism in the context of Man Ray's relationship with Picasso: "The ink portrait itself is fascinating as it portrays Man Ray as an obscure character (foreign and Surrealist), his face somewhat masked out with black ink. However this is a reference to the Surrealist concepts of black and white – a homage to Man Ray as photographer (using the ink blots to imitate the dark tones in a photograph) and also as an illustration to a new and innovative book on modern photography."

This work has a distinguished history of ownership, starting of course with Man Ray, who sold the work to the playwright Clifford Odets.  Known for plays such as “Waiting for Lefty” that made him a success early in life, Odets spent a number of years in Los Angeles struggling to make his way in Hollywood.  Odets was also a painter himself and he formed an important collection of works by Chagall, Soutine, Picasso, Klee, and Ludwig Meidner.  Odets donated a major “Apocalyptic Landscape” by Meidner to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Odets was a client of the art dealer Paul Kantor, and during one period of financial struggle, Odets sold the present work to Kantor.   Kantor was a pioneering dealer in Los Angeles and operated one of the most important galleries for Contemporary and Modern artists in the 1950s and 60s.  Kantor discovered the artist Richard Diebenkorn in a juried exhibition in Los Angeles in 1950, and proceeded to buy three paintings directly from the artist for $300.  “It was all the money I had,”  he said.  Kantor closed his gallery in 1966 and continued to operate as a private dealer for many years until his death in 2002.  The present picture, which he never wanted to sell, was among the select works Kantor kept for his own enjoyment in his personal collection.

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